General Anthropology Division
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Evocative of the ostensibly bygone colonial era, archaeology in Africa continues to be directed and conducted by foreign entities who supplant Africans from their pasts and heritage resources. Tanzania’s Oldupai (Olduvai) Gorge is recognised as one of the world’s most important human evolution research sites and draws countless international researchers, yet less recognised is that the Maasai pastoral society inhabits the region. Despite over a hundred years of excavations in the Gorge, the Maasai and palaeoanthropologists have rarely affiliated. Furthermore, enduring and inaccurate depictions of Maasai peoples as archaic and premodern, along with unfounded portrayals of Maasai pastoralism as damaging to Tanzania’s famed savannah ecosystems, continue to guide policies that make Maasai pastoral livelihoods impossible. This paper harnesses actor-network-theory to ethnographically and symmetrically compare the epistemic cultures of both the Maasai and palaeoanthropologists in Oldupai, and argues that while Maasai and palaeoanthropological knowledge differs in cultural content, both groups constructed black boxes – such as oral traditions and scientific facts – in parallel forms that were equally logical. Therefore, because there are no fundamental cognitive differences between members each group, there are no justifiable reasons for the Maasai to be excluded from research in their homeland and its myriad benefits. While palaeoanthropologists produced knowledge about shifting climates in the past and Maasai pastoralists generated knowledge regarding contemporary climate change, new collaborative projects in Oldupai Gorge are creating a more equitable and non-colonial future by relegating the hardships of navigating both types of climate change to the past.